June 20, 2024
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Introduction to Conflict Resolution the Torah Way

One of my passions in learning Torah is to scratch the surface and dig out insights that serve a dual purpose. The first is to enhance our lives in our current galut by living a joyful and meaningful life. The second is to glean the lessons in the Torah that will lead us to our final destination, reuniting with Hakadosh Baruch Hu in our homeland. This, we already know, is so close but still a bit far away. All we have to do is figure out how to move even higher up on the “escalator” toward spiritual and characterological growth. The reason I refer to this as an escalator rather than an elevator is because we are on an upward journey, reaching for higher and higher goals in readiness for the geulah, which sometimes feels like an impossible dream. Years ago, Rabbi Yudin, our Fair Lawn rav, used the metaphor. He explained that when we are on an escalator we must keep going, not stopping to rest on our upward journey toward spiritual growth. This is because if we dare to do so, stopping will accomplish nothing but falling down! In a similar fashion, the mission Hashem assigned to each one of us is “one way.” If we stop, we fall down to where we started, never arising on our journey toward spiritual and characterological growth.

In my younger years I never appreciated the impact the Torah stories beyond Sefer Shemot have on our lives, particularly in accomplishing the mission noted above. Yet, in the second phase of my life, after experiencing a personal challenge, I realized that there is even as much to learn from the “worst” of times, and those in between as well. This is because the life lessons in following our historical development as individuals, families and ultimately a nation all offer us valuable life lessons. It was after our release from the burden of enslavement in Mitzrayim and we entered the desert that we grew from “spiritual infants” to full-fledged adults. In doing so, we arrived at the elevation worthy of the holy people that Hashem expects us to be. Now that we are in our current galut we have to repeat the process of rehabilitation needed that will once again lead us to the joyful and meaningful lives that were promised via our final geulah. And it is in Sefer Bamidbar that we learn all the strategies that will get us to our destination. In doing so, we will prove, and also prove to God, that we are finally “ready and set to go!” Given these insights, we view ourselves as living in an environment and culture that is virtually a desert from a spiritual perspective, but at the same time a repetition of the Egyptian culture that is there to enslave us via the cultural values that are barriers to spiritual freedom. This is because we are enticed by how easy and fun it is to be an “infant” who has no obligations to meet the standards of our Torah values and lifestyle. Sefer Shemot is the perfect place to start!

This morning Hashem sent a direct message to me, letting me know that I was on the right track. I was just beginning to say my daily Tehillim for our cholim and those in need of shidduchim when an inspiration from my tefillot came upon me. I immediately recognized it as a show of hashgacha pratit, Divine intervention. This was because the kapitlach (chapters) assigned to me happened to be in sync with where I was headed. I am well aware that it is no coincidence—that both my Fair Lawn and Boca rabbanim share similar sentiments when inspiring their congregants regarding the value and import of our tefillot and limud Torah. The lessons they teach and the examples they set convince us that rather than obligations, these two avenues of connecting with Hashem at any time of the day are the most precious gift in the treasure box of our Jewish homes. Through these lessons we also come to understand the distinction between the two. This is because in taking advantage of both we have access to participate in conversations with God all day long if we so desire. Imagine that! If we lean on these truths, we never have to feel lonely. This is because Hakadosh Baruch Hu, via the metaphors assigned to Him, can be seen as a parent or a spouse. I also like to think of Him as a respected and reliable friend. This does not mean Hakadosh Baruch Hu replaces those who are lost to us or missing in our lives due to circumstances. Rather, it reminds us that He can be counted on to comfort and engage us in the manner we are accustomed to by one who truly loves us.

Viewed through this lens, He is always with us, open to our prayers and fully committed to guide, nurture and comfort us. I know that this shift of perspective works wonders, because since the loss of my beloved twin Adele, z”l, my conversations with Hakadosh Baruch Hu each morning and afternoon, as well as my relationship with my husband, family and friends, go a long way in both easing the pain and loss as well as the loneliness evoked by loss. This is because the positive perspectives offered in our tefillot and Torah are the cushions that soften the feelings of being “punished” that so many experience during difficult times. Yet, if we lean on our Torah stories and didactic lessons we know Hashem has full emunah in us—because it is the very “imperfections” that make us feel worthy of punishment that ultimately leads to our growth. After all, Hashem could have created us as angels, but He has confidence that we have far more to contribute to the world and are worthy of this hopefully lengthy stay in His beautiful world that He created for us to be challenged and grow. It is the beauty in our imperfections that allows us to grow in all arenas.

Viewed from this perspective, the best of times, along with the worst of times, can be seen as the reminders and the push, sometimes soft and sometimes rocky, challenging us to go the course, knowing that the best is yet to come! If I have convinced you in this “introduction,” look forward to joining me in our travels through the Midbar of the past as a paradigm for the Midbar we live in today, leading us to our final geulah, “ready and set to go!”


Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with special training in imago relational therapy. She can be reached at [email protected].

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